What’s your definition of leadership?

It’s difficult to find one that people agree on. I have a quote from a 5th grader on my Facebook page: “Leadership is going first.” There is truth in that statement. John Maxwell is often quoted, “Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.” In a very broad sense this is true. But his definition includes those who lead or have influence in positive ways and also negative ways.

Over the years I’ve asked many high school students about the characteristics of strong leaders. They usually quickly share distinctives about whoever the current president is, or MLK, or Gandhi. I’ll then add in, “What about Hitler? Wasn’t he a leader?” They all agree that he was, which leads to a discussion about different types or styles of leadership.

In fact, here is a quote from Hitler: “The art of leadership ... consists in consolidating the attention ofthe people against a single adversary and taking care that nothing will split up that attention."  Is leadership focusing the attention of people against an adversary?

I don’t think so. At least not the type of leadership I want to have anything to do with.  My current definition for positive leadership is, “Leadership is helping others succeed.”

If you are helping others succeed, you listen first and often.  If you are helping others succeed, you think about what is best for the group or team, not just yourself; in fact, you might not be thinking about yourself at all.  If you are helping others succeed, you start by building trust.  An interesting side effect to helping others succeed is that most likely you will succeed as well.  In your leadership are you looking first to serve yourself, or is your default to first help those you areleading to succeed?

What’s your definition of leadership?

This is a guest post by Chris Theule-VanDam.  Chris is a Regional Director in the state of Michigan for Young Life.  Chris, with his his wife Arika  and their baby son Zeke live in  Allendale, MI.  You can follow Chris on Twitter,  Chris is one of the few people I know who can be found on Twitter by just his last name.

Grow up stupid

This is my youngest son.  You might notice a couple of things: 1.  Yes, he's still wearing Christmas PJ's in April.  2.  That coat is far to big for him.

The coat should be too big, it's his older brother's coat.  As you can imagine, I made sure to tell him that he was far to immature to wear the coat.  I told him that he had no business putting the coat on in the first place because he didn't fit into it.  I told him that I really don't have time to waste on his lack of growth and told him I didn't want to see him again until he could fit in the coat.  As you can see he covered his face in justifiable shame.  It's his own fault he hasn't grown; hopefully, the pain and hurt from my words will make him grow up faster.  Or maybe he'll notice I've given up on him and he will recognize that he needs to work a lot harder to make sure that coat fits.

What?  Too harsh?

Well of course it is!  I didn't say that, he's my son!

I can't help but notice this is how most organizations and businesses are treating the next generation of male leaders.  We expect the job to fit a generation that isn't there yet.  So what do we do?  Some people think that the proper response is to make sure the job doesn't fit.  If you create a target that is impossible to hit maybe you can exclude almost everyone and only hire the maturest, suitable, and capable people.  That idea works for a small window, but those people burn out in less than five years because unlike everyone else in their peer group, they've worked so hard to hit the target you've exhausted them.

Well how about we just ignore them?  Maybe if we want nothing to do with them they will be so desperate to be accepted by us that they will grow up?  Wrong again.  They go on to do incredibly creative things that creates new fields of work or products.  This creative talent could have been in your organization or business but it went elsewhere because you don't have the time or didn't want to change.

How about we just constantly verbally remind them that the role doesn't fit?  Nothing makes me want to work harder quite like discouragement.  Surely if I remind my son how immature he is he will force himself to grow up and fit into the jacket.  Yeah, probably not.  He'll probably take the jacket off and start to despise me.  This is no different than what we are doing with a lot of the next generation of male leaders.  I hear most leaders saying, "We got to sober this next generation up!"  A slap will work right?

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Why are we treating the next generation of male leaders the same way!?

We are missing an opportunity to share with them that soon the coat will fit, or the job will fit, or the role will fit it's just going to take some growth.  Are you going to pass up on helping them grow? Passing up this opportunity could be passing up the next big opportunity for your organization or company.